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the chip on his shoulder, the game on tv

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He promises himself not to take it out on them, just as his father promised that he would not take it out on him. And we all know how well that went.

When he takes his older daughter into the bookstore or the newsstand, often enough they stop to look at things that he has written, that her mother has written – as yet exclusively in the magazine and newspaper bits of the store. “Dadda wrote this piece… Yes I know it’s smaller than the other ones… Yes, we have a copy at home, I just thought you’d like to see it…. Do you remember when Dadda had to work last weekend – well, this is what he was doing, writing this…. Yes, sweetie, I know it is smaller than the others. That’s not what is important. What’s important is that Dadda wrote this piece.”

Or there are books. “Do you remember the man who came over last month? Do you remember Lola and her sister. Their father, yes. Yes, this is his book. Yes, he wrote all of it – the whole thing…. I don’t know if he did it on weekends or not, probably, at least some of the time…”

What a fundamentally different relationship to a bookstore, which for him was a sort of sacred shrine visited weekly with his mother. The people who wrote those were nowhere, elsewhere. You read what they wrote and you were thankful for the opportunity to do so. He never once thought of them, the people that he read, as alive and sitting at typewriters somewhere knowable, somewhere one might visit.

Still today, when in stress, he buys books. He never – until today – understood exactly what it means. Today, sitting in the Ikea cafeteria with his daughter, the older one, he received an email about his novel. Nothing bad – just preemptive feedback from an editor at X that his…. agent (?) had spoken to about it. When they were home, and after he had built the tiny child furniture they had purchased, he asked for time out to work and then stopped at the bookstore before making his way to the coffeehouse where he works.

The bookstore, the books he buys, in short, mean security against, recidivism in the face of, the unbearable task of doing something that he simply isn’t suited, for a thousand reasons, to do. By nature and by upbringing, he is a reader, a semi-passive recipient of these things, not one who makes them himself. That is for other people, those people whose parents took them to bookstores to show their children the articles and books they had written.

Later, he returns home and watches a repeat of the Yankees – Mets game on ESPN America. The reliever for the Mets throws at 3/4ers, just as he did. Throws a slider that shivers the legs of the batters, just as he did. This he could have done – this he was groomed, unlike his own father, to be large and brave in doing. He should have, he thinks, taken up the chance to pitch at university. What went into the pious decision to work instead? What sort of misplaced confidence, what sort of working through of class?

In lieu of writing at night, he smokes cigarettes and drinks beer. But before that, well before, as he and the same daughter, the older one, walked to pick up pizza, he told her “You know, actually you don’t know, but your grandfather almost ran this company… Yes, Pizza Hut. He was recruited, we went to Wichita, Dadda almost moved to Kansas, something we can both be thankful didn’t happen. But, yes, your grandfather almost made these pizzas, right from the very top….”

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 20, 2010 at 1:02 am

Posted in anxiety

4 Responses

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  1. If it’s of any comfort, I think that a large number of writers have a similar relationship to buying books, and to reading books as a way of staving off the fear of writing. It both stokes the inadequacy and somehow comforts it – why need write when there are glorious books in the world already? No one will miss me if I fail, or even know I was trying to write.

    I don’t think I trust writers who are not, still, at heart, readers. It’s not passive, to read – I think you intend that as self-criticism. One constructs the world. I stepped into the constructed world of the obsessive reader at such a young age, it is the world to me, I can’t remember a time before reading and I’ve never found a door back out, outside of books. So it is. It’s okay, I think.


    June 20, 2010 at 2:09 am

  2. Anywn,

    Absolutely… And one of the perils of the MFA, as I’m sure you know, is that it can seem – from what I’ve seen – to sanction illiteracy, confer a degree upon it, etc. (The PhD has equal and opposite perils, if one would write with it). But yes, it sounds like we’re on the same page, as it were, with this.

    I purchased six books today. 3 used, 3 remaindered. So things are getting quite pitched in that direction it seems.


    June 20, 2010 at 11:48 pm

  3. i’m 60 years old, am a writer who hasn’t been brave enough to write. I have 7 children, buy books and read the nyrreviewofbooks to remember that people read books. I walked into a bookstore in Washington, D.C. with my son Nate to show him the brandnew book Viking Press had just published with my translation of Peter Handke’s “A Journey to the Rivers.”

    Your post captures all of that. Thanks.

    Scott Abbott

    June 26, 2010 at 5:31 am

    • Ah thanks for that Scott!


      June 27, 2010 at 10:04 am

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